July 22, 2014

Essex Zoning Commission Approves Change to Restaurant Rules, Continues Other Public Hearings to Feb 25

ESSEX— The zoning commission Wednesday repealed two restrictions on new restaurants while continuing to Feb. 25 other public hearings, including the hearing on a reopening of the former Sunoco station with a convenience store.

After a brief public hearing where there were no speakers, either for or against the change, the commission approved its own proposal to remove from zoning regulations two restrictions on new restaurants that dated back to the 1980s.
Dropped are regulations that prohibited new restaurants on corner lots, or within 750 feet of an existing restaurant. Another restriction that limits new restaurants to no more than 10 seats is still under review by the panel, and was not part of Wednesday’s public hearing.

The commission continued to Feb. 25 the public hearing on its own proposal for a regulation that would prohibit new fast food restaurants in Essex, and ban new drive-through windows for restaurants or banks. There were no speakers on this proposed regulation at the hearing Wednesday.

The commission continued to Feb. 25 the public hearing on a special permit application by  Bestway 2 LLC of Norwich to open a convenience store at the former Sunoco station site at 1 Saybrook Road. The group also plans to reopen the Sunoco gasoline station at the site, which has been vacant since 2005.

Lawyer Tom McClaughlin, representing the applicants, said the project would “bring back to life,” a vacant property that was becoming a “blight” in the area near Route 9 exit 3 and the Valley Railroad complex. Clint Brown, project engineer with the Groton firm DiCesare Bently Engineers, said there would be no increase in the size of the 1,800-square-foot building, though exterior renovations would “make it look less like a gas station and more like a convenience store.” The existing underground gasoline tanks would be removed and replaced, with a total of eight pump stations.

There was some initial disagreement between the applicants and the commission over the number of parking spaces that would be required for the combined gasoline statiion/convenience store. The site plan shows nine parking spaces, with McClaughlin suggesting the eight spots at the gasoline pumps could also be counted as parking spaces for quick customer visits. Brown noted town regulations for retail stores call for at least nine parking spaces.

But commission Chairman Alvin Wolfgram and Zoning Enforcement Officer Joseph Budrow had a different interpretation of the regulations. Budrow said he believed 12 parking spaces are required, while Wolfgram noted 14 spaces would be required if the convenience store was considered as a grocery store. Brown, after noting there would be no cooking done at the site, maintained the convenience store should be viewed as “something in between” a retail store and a grocery store.

Wolfgram, after noting the spots at the gasoline pumps should not be viewed as parking spaces, urged Brown to revise the parking calculations on the site plan. He suggested there would be enough space on the one-third-acre parcel for some additional parking spaces. There were no speakers for or against the application during the public hearing, which was also continued to Feb. 25.

Charles StannardCharles Stannard is a lifelong resident of Essex and a graduate of Valley Regional High School and the University of Connecticut at Storrs.  Charlie worked for the Middletown Press from 1979 to 1995, covering Haddam and Killingworth and later Middletown city hall and schools.  From 1997 through 2010 Charlie was a reporter for the Hartford Courant and has covered Chester, Deep River, Essex and Killingworth for the past decade.  Charlie lives in the Ivoryton section of Essex.  Contact Charles at stannardcharles@yahoo.com

Greenleaf Music Award Recipient Announced – Pivate Lessons at CMS

Jenna Wilson of Niantic.  Recipient of the Spring 2013 Carolyn R. Greenleaf Music Award

Jenna Wilson of Niantic. Recipient of the Spring 2013 Carolyn R. Greenleaf Music Award

The selection committee for the Carolyn R. Greenleaf Memorial Fund at the Community Foundation of Middlesex County has chosen violinist Jenna Wilson of Niantic as the recipient of the Spring 2013 Carolyn R. Greenleaf Music Award.

This award is given each semester to a high school junior or senior who has demonstrated exceptional musical ability and motivation, and represents a semester of private lessons at the Community Music School in Centerbrook.

This semester’s winner, Jenna Wilson, is a student of violin teacher Martha Herrle at the Community Music School, where she has served as Concertmaster of the CMS String Ensemble since 2010.  A senior at East Lyme High School, Jenna plays in the school orchestra. She also performs as a volunteer for various nursing homes and senior centers.  She has received several awards for her musical achievement, both at East Lyme High School and the Community Music School.

The Carolyn R. Greenleaf Memorial Fund was established at the Community Foundation of Middlesex County in 2008 by her friends to honor Greenleaf’s dedication to music and education. The Carolyn Greenleaf Memorial Music Award is open to students of Middlesex County and the Lymes and is awarded each semester.  It is entirely based on merit, and is the only such award at the Community Music School.  The deadline for applications for the Fall semester will be announced in July. The application may be downloaded from the websites of the Community Music School (www.community-music-school.org) and the Community Foundation of Middlesex County (www.middlesexcountycf.org).

Community Music School is an independent, nonprofit school which provides a full range of the finest possible instruction and musical opportunities to persons of all ages and abilities, increasing appreciation of music and encouraging a sense of joy in learning and performing, thus enriching the life of the community.

Community Foundation of Middlesex County is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life in Middlesex County. Working with charitably-minded individuals and organizations to build permanent endowments since 1997, the Community Foundation has provided 850 grants totaling more than $2.5 million to organizations for the arts, cultural and heritage programs, educational activities,  environmental improvements, and for health and human services.  For more information, contact us at 860.347.0025 or info@MiddlesexCountyCF.org.

Chester Town Meeting Approves Town Hall Second Floor Renovation Funding, Participation in Solar Energy Program

CHESTER—  Voters at a town meeting last week authorized an expenditure of up t0 $193,000 for renovations to the second floor of town hall, and town participation in the Connecticut Solar Challenge Program.  The two items, along with a five-year renewal of the town’s property tax relief for elderly and disabled homeowners ordinance, were unanimously approved by about 15 voters at the Jan. 23 town meeting.

Funding for the town hall renovation work was obtained from an insurance settlement from the collapse of the former community center building on Route 154 in February 2011. The town has hired Nasi Group LLC of Waterford for the project at a bid price of $125,475. The plans call for renovating the second floor of town hall to create a meeting room accommodating up to 65 people, along with some changes to offices on the second floor. Work on the renovations is scheduled to begin Feb. 8 for completion in May.

The Connecticut Solar Challenge Program is a non-profit program that assisting residents wishing to purchase solar photovoltaic and solar thermal heating systems for their homes. With the vote for participation in the program, the town agrees to maintain a flat $100 building permit fee for work done on solar projects within a six-month participation period. The program is expected to begin in February and run through July.

‘Big Book Club Getaway’ Announces New Prices, $50 Either Day

Big Book ClubMore than 40 bestselling and award-winning authors and presenters will converge at Mohegan Sun on Feb. 1-2, 2013 for The Big Book Club Getaway, which will benefit The Alzheimer’s Association.

Speakers include:

  • Yale Professor Carlos Eire, a winner of the National Book Award for Non-Fiction;
  • Leeza Gibbons, iconic American talk show host, author and philanthropist;
  • Brad Meltzer, #1 bestselling political suspense author and host of the History Channel TV show “Decoded;”
  • Tess Gerritsen, creator of the Rizzoli & Isles series on TNT;
  • Patricia Schultz, author of “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,”
    and several other renowned writers and experts.

A variety of genres will be represented, including: memoir, sports, history, cooking, children’s, travel, health, mystery, romance, fiction, and non-fiction.

Guests will hear authors on the main stage and in concurrent break-out sessions, such as

  • an “All Star Mystery/Suspense Panel,” including J.A. Jance, Hallie Ephron, Hank Phillippi Ryan and Tess Gerritsen;
  • a panel of sex therapists from the Institute for Sexuality Education and Enlightenment on the “Fifty Shades of Grey” phenomenon;
  • five Harvard Health Publication physicians discussing relationships, stress management, brain power and creativity;
  • Tish Rabe, bestselling children’s book author of The Cat in the Hat Learning Library series;
  • Julia Usher, Vice President of the International Association of Culinary Professionals;
  • a Valentine’s romance-themed panel with Harlequin Intrigue;
  • The History Press panel;
  • and a sports panel moderated by Rick Wolff, host of The Sports Edge on WFAN Radio (NY) and Executive Editor of Grand Central Publishing.

Authors from Random House, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group, Penguin, Alfred A. Knopf, Workman Press, Crown, Gibbs Smith, and other leading publishers will discuss and sign their books.

Local authors will also share their work at rotating stations.

The Big Book Club Getaway is sponsored by  Mohegan Sun, Chicken Soup for the Soul and CT Humanities.  The event coincides with Mohegan Sun’s very popular Diva Nights program.

Chicken Soup for the Soul is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2013; Publisher and author, Amy Newmark will speak on the power of storytelling and positive thinking, providing complimentary books for all attendees.

Discussion leaders from CT Humanities, Bank Square Books, Random House, and Reading Group Guides will lead an interactive conversation about book clubs and contemporary issues.

Kristin van Ogtrop, Managing Editor of Real Simple will talk about juggling her role at the magazine with the challenges of motherhood.

The Alzheimer’s Association will receive a portion of the proceeds from The Big Book Club Getaway.  A primary objective of the event is to further awareness and education about this devastating disease, which impacts over 5.4 million Americans each year, and is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

Kristen Cusato, former WTNH anchorperson, and Southwest Regional Director of the Alzheimer’s Association Connecticut Chapter will emcee Friday night’s program.

UCLA neuroscientist and author of “The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program,” Gary Small, M.D., will take part in the event and explain his research; Dr. Small is a frequent expert guest on the national talk show circuit and news programs, including: The Today Show, Good Morning America, PBS, and CNN.

The Big Book Club Getaway expands upon the traditional living room book club concept where small groups of people gather together to discuss popular titles, such as works by:

  • Mary McGarry Morris, “Songs in Ordinary Time,” which was made into a CBS movie;
  • Erika Marks, “Little Gale Gumbo” and “The Mermaid Collector;”
  • David Gillham, “City of Women;”
  • Patricia Harman, “The Midwife of Hope River,”
  • Susan Conley, “The Foremost Good Fortune,” a top ten reads selection by  “O, The Oprah Magazine.”

The Big Book Club Share, presented by CT Humanities, will create an opportunity for a large-scale discussion.

The Big Book Club Getaway is where pop culture, brains, books and fun all come together in one interactive platform.

  • Gwen Lawrence, yoga instructor for the New York Giants will lead The Big Yoga Class.
  • A museum curator and professors from Yale, Harvard, UConn, NYU, UCLA, Sacred Heart, Quinnipiac, University of Hartford and University of Bridgeport will provide intellectual content.

Guests can enjoy all that Mohegan Sun has to offer such as, gaming, shopping, fine dining and spa services.  The Big Book Club Boulevard will include various exhibitors, such as artists, publishers, health/beauty/ fashion retailers, and non-profit and educational agencies.

Each guest will go home with a gift bag packed full of books, Real Simple magazine, and product samples with a total value of over $50.

Visit www.thebigbookclub.org for more information and to register for the event.

News and regular updates will be posted on the event Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thebigbookclubgetaway .

Essex Zoning Hearing Adds Convenience Store Proposal for Former Sunoco Station

*Meeting rescheduled for Wednesday 30 Jan*

ESSEX— A busy zoning commission public hearing agenda Monday now includes new proposals to reopen a gasoline station/convenience store at the former Sunoco station at 1 Saybrook Road, and a separate request to add new uses to the limited industrial zone on Plains Road.

The agenda for the meeting that begins at 7 p.m. at town hall was already full as the commission prepares to receive input on it’s own proposal to ease current restrictions on new restaurants, while also banning new fast food restaurants and new drive-through windows for either restaurants or banks.

The commission is proposing the amend the regulations to remove two restrictions on new restaurants that have been in place since the 1980s. The proposal would delete regulations that prohibit new restaurants on corner lots, or within 750-feet of an existing restaurant. At the same time, the panel is proposing a regulation that would prohibit new fast food restaurants and drive-through windows in Essex.

Joseph Budrow, zoning enforcement officer, said the special permit application for a convenience store at the 1 Saybrook Road parcel was submitted last month. The former Sunoco station, near Route 9 exit 3, has been vacant for more than four years. Bestway 2 LLC of Norwich is proposing to reopen the gasoline station in conjunction with a full convenience store.

The proposal to amend the uses allowed in the limited industrial zone on Plains Road comes from New England Commercial Properties LLC. The property management group owns an existing complex of three buildings at 46 Plains Road, where one of the partners also operates the Vintage Construction Company. While most of the space in the buildings is occupied, the partnership has requested changes to the defined list of uses to include commercial kitchens where food products are packages, but not cooked, and new provisions for small start-up contracting businesses.

Budrow said the are no specific proposals from New England Commercial Properties LLC for the requested new uses. Budrow said some, or possibly all, of the public hearings are expected to be continued to the commission’s February meeting.

Deep River Purchases Solid Waste Disposal Trailer From Clinton

DEEP RIVER– In another example of regional cooperation among area towns, the town is buying a used solid waste disposal trailer from Clinton for $20,000. The purchase of the 100-cubic yard trailer was approved this week by the board of selectmen and board of finance.

First Selectman Richard Smith said the town had been renting the trailer from Clinton since November, when the town’s original trailer, which was acquired in the late 1970s, could no longer be used. The trailer is used to haul trash that is compacted at the town disposal area off Route 80 to the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority regional transfer station in Essex.

Smith said research determined a new 100-cubic yard trailer would cost about $60,000. The price led Smith to ask Clinton First Selectman Willie Fritz whether his town would be willing to sell the used trailer to Deep River. It was one of three trailers used by Clinton to haul compacted trash to the Essex facility. Fritz agreed, securing approval of the $20,000 equipment sale from the selectmen and finance board in Clinton.

Middlesex County Youth to Experience Homelessness for a Night

Young people from across Middlesex County are going to brave January’s cold and sleep outdoors Saturday, Jan. 26, as part of a program to educate people about the existence and conditions of homelessness in the community.

The fourth annual Homelessness Awareness Discussion and Sleep-Out will kick off in two locations at 6:45 p.m. at South Congregational Church on Main Street in Middletown and at 6 p.m. the St. Joseph’s Church in Chester. The event is sponsored by 10 faith-based organizations in collaboration with the Middlesex County Coalition on Housing and Homelessness (MCCHH), which is implementing a Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness in the county.

The teens will hear first-hand about the ordeal of homelessness from several people who are currently or formerly homeless and be able to ask questions. A simple soup and bread dinner will be served.

“The biggest thing they take away is that these homeless people are real; they are just like them,” said Jim Tabor, youth ministry coordinator for St. Joseph’s, which this year will have 10 teens joining the sleep-out. “There were circumstances that drove them to homelessness, some within their control and some not. And they learn just how difficult homelessness is.”

Youth participants then will to spend the night outside. In the past, some of them have chosen to sleep in their cars without heat, build cardboard shelters or just spread their sleeping bags on tarps on the frozen ground.

The Middlesex County Coalition on Housing and Homelessness was formed in late 2007 to execute the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness.  Over the past year, 56 “Housing First” supportive housing units were created to house formerly chronically-homeless individuals and 170 households, including more than 230 children, have been helped through the flexible homelessness prevention fund.

Despite some positive signs, homelessness in Middlesex County increased from 2010 to 2011, due largely to the ongoing recession, and is affecting new segments of the population. According to figures from January 2011, there were 248 people including 159 single adults and 37 families with 52 children in Middlesex County experiencing homelessness, a 15 percent increase over 2010.

Out of the 248 homeless people, 43 percent had never been homeless before. In Middlesex County, 43 percent of adults in families cited domestic violence as a contributing cause of homelessness, while 25 percent of families reported rent problems or eviction as the reason they left their last residence. Ten percent of the total included chronically homeless people, adults with disabling conditions who had been homeless for a year or more or who had at least four episodes of homelessness during the past three years. The remaining 90 percent experienced situational homelessness caused by a crisis such as  job loss, foreclosure or illness and typically return to permanent housing within 30 days of becoming homeless.

Through the creation of permanent supportive housing, the operation of a Homelessness Prevention Fund, the development of outreach and education programs to help homeless people find and retain jobs, and improving coordination of services for the homeless, the Coalition is dedicated to achieving its goal of “An End In Ten”— eradicating the tragedy of homelessness from our communities by 2018.

For more information on the Middlesex Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness visit www.AnEndInTen.org or www.facebook.com/anendinten.

Lawsuit Filed Over Deep River Zoning Board of Appeals Actions in Proposed Used Car Dealership Case

DEEP RIVER— Actions by the zoning board of appeals last summer on requested variances for a proposed used car dealership at a former industrial building on Route 154 have led to a lawsuit filed against the board. Local resident George Bartlett Jr. filed a lawsuit in November asking the court to direct the board to amend its minutes from a contentious June 19 public hearing, and to approve two variances needed for Bartlett to pursue planning and zoning commission approval of a used car dealership at the 444 Main Street property.

The lawsuit filed in Middlesex Superior Court by Essex lawyer John Bennet contends the board in September improperly rejected a request from Bartlett to amend and correct allegedly inaccurate minutes from the June 19 public hearing and meeting on the variance appeals. The lawsuit contends minutes prepared by long-time zoning board of appeals chairman Donald Grohs did not accurately report Bartlett’s request for two variances at the June 19 session. The suit also notes that Grohs had recused himself from hearing the appeal because he owns nearby property, and that there is no tape recording of the board’s discussion and vote on the variance appeals.

The plan to open a used car dealership at the former Champion Tool & Die Co. building had drawn strong opposition from the planning and zoning commission at the June 19 hearing. Variances were needed to pursue approval of a used car dealership in the parcel because zoning regulations require at least 150 feet of road frontage for businesses in the Turnpike Industrial Zone on the south side of town. The 444 Main Street parcel has only 144.7-feet of road frontage.

The lawyer for the commission, Middletown attorney William Howard, had maintained that Bartlett, who was represented by Essex lawyer and Bennet partner Michael Wells, was seeking both a 5.3-foot dimensional variance, but also an illegal use variance of a separate regulation that required at least 150-feet of road frontage for used car dealerships. The board approved the dimensional variance on a 4-1 vote, but there was also a clear sense after the June 19 meeting that the board had also approved a separate variance of regulation 7B.9.3 that had drawn objections from the planning and zoning commission.

The commission at a June 21 meeting directed Howard to file a court appeal of the ZBA decision, setting up a possible legal battle between the zoning board of appeals and the planning and zoning commission, with town taxpayers paying the legal expenses for both panels. But the commission vs. board lawsuit appeared to have been averted after First Selectman Richard Smith set up a July 2 meeting between members and legal counsel for the board and commission.

Cathy Jefferson, zoning enforcement officer, said Wednesday the commission is not involved in the lawsuit between Bartlett and the zoning board of appeals. Jefferson said Bartlett received approval during the fall to lease a portion of the building to a small manufacturing business, but has not filed any applications for approval of the proposed used car dealership.

Deep River Rotary 3rd Annual Antiques and Collectibles Auction – Apr. 6

Deep River Rotary will be sponsoring its 3rd annual antiques and collectibles auction on April 6, 2013 at the Deep River Congregational Church on Main Street in Deep River from 6-9 p.m.

We are asking people to consign or donate antiques and collectibles to be auctioned with a percentage of the profits to be a tax deductible donation to the Deep River Rotary Club for its works both in the local community and abroad.  If you are not familiar with what a Rotary club does here is a little information about us.

Rotary International has 1.2 million members.  Members believe it starts with a commitment to Service Above Self.  In more than 34,000 clubs worldwide, you’ll find members volunteering in communities at home and abroad to support education and job training, provide clean water, combat hunger, improve health and sanitation, and eradicate polio!!

If you wish to DONATE OR CONSIGN items please contact Quality Collectibles on Main Street in Deep River at 860-526-8343.  Items will be accepted up and until April 2nd.

antique auction 2013 (1)

Haddam to Receive $2.55 mil. to Rebuild Bridge

A $2.55 million rehabilitation of the bridge along Route 9 northbound over Nedobity Road (Bridge 3290) has been included in the State Bond Commission January agenda and will be voted on Friday, January 25, 2013.

Representative Philip Miller (D-Chester, Deep River, Essex, and Haddam) was pleased to learn of the large infrastructure renewal sum being bonded to the 36th district. “It has been tough enough to mitigate a big deficit with our state.  In response to our state budget issues the legislature has had to defer maintenance for our aging infrastructure.  Luckily, we have been able to prioritize to take care of bridges like this one that need our attention.  It takes financial discipline to do this, but it is in all of our interest to protect the public’s safety.”

There are four projects included in the Public Act #57, 2011 under item #27 giving $16.75 million from the Department of Transportation in Special Tax Obligation Bonds to municipalities for state bridge improvement, rehabilitation and replacement projects. These projects are projected to create or retain approximately 351 construction related jobs. The three other bridge rehabilitation projects mentioned in this item are in Plymouth, Seymour, and Derby.

Community Music School Hosts Open House Week Feb 4-8

CMS

CENTERBROOK – Community Music School, located in the Spencer’s Corner professional complex at 90 Main Street in Centerbrook, welcomes the general public to visit during Open House Week February 4 through 8. Children and adults can tour the School’s studios, meet teachers and staff, enjoy a FREE preview lesson, and learn about a vast array of programs including private and group lessons, musical theater, the Kindermusik early childhood program, an exciting new summer performing arts camp, and music therapy services. Community Music School is open from 9 am to 7 pm weekdays. Those interested in a 15-minute preview lesson are requested to call 860-767-0026 for scheduling.

Community Music School offers innovative music programming for infants through adults, building on a 30 year tradition of providing quality music instruction to residents of shoreline communities. CMS programs cultivate musical ability and creativity and provide students with a thorough understanding of music so that they can enjoy playing and listening for their entire lives.

For additional information visit www.community-music-school.org or call 860-767-0026.

 

The Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation Awards $300K for Breast Cancer Research

The Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation (TBBCF) was established in 2006 by two friends, Norma Logan (1958-2006) and Sandy Maniscalco who realized the need for a new kind of non-profit that dedicates 100% of gross fundraising dollars to breast cancer research.  The Foundation is named for Terri Brodeur, a local Old Saybrook mother of three young children and victim of breast cancer.

In just seven short years, TBBCF has granted $2.4 million for breast cancer research.  This year, the Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Committee has issued grants to outstanding researchers from the Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory, the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute-Harvard.  Each recipient will receive a $100K research grant.

The three recipients are dedicating their careers to research that can improve care and ultimately find a cure for breast cancer. Their research will include protein involvement in breast cancer development that will lead to new breast cancer therapies, breast cancer initiation mechanisms which will improve early breast cancer detection and prevention, and why tumors become resistant to certain drugs.

TBBCF has provided funding of 24 grants to promising researchers by honoring its promise that 100% of gross fundraising dollars goes directly to breast cancer research.  The Foundation raises the majority of its funding through its annual Walk Across Southeastern CT which will be held on Saturday, October 5, 2013.   For more information about the Walk, the Foundation, or to make a contribution, please visit  www.tbbcf.org, mail to tbbcf@sbcglobal.net or call 860-245-0402.

Withdrawal of Petition Halts Chester Poultry Regulations Controversy

CHESTER— After two postponements, the public hearing on a requested change to town regulations governing poultry has been cancelled after the petitioners, John and Bonnie Bennet, withdrew their request for a change to the regulations.

Only one day after town officials announced Thursday the planning and zoning commission public hearing was rescheduled for Feb. 4 in the auditorium at Valley Regional High School, the Bennets withdrew the proposal they had submitted last fall. A cancelllation notice for the public hearing was posted on the town’s website Friday by commission secretary Sally Murray.

The Bennets, 0f 23 Story Hill Road, were seeking to amend the regulations governing the keeping of poultry on residential property to prohibit the keeping of roosters and other noisy fowl. The keeping of hens would be allowed, but the Bennets had proposed increasing the minimum lot size and setback requirements from abutting property for properties containing chickens. Bennet, a lawyer with an office in Essex, is the long-time town attorney for Chester and a frequent moderator at town meetings.

The proposed changes generated strong opposition from residents. The public hearing was initially set for Dec. 6 at the Chester Meeting House, the planning and zoning commission’s usual meeting location. But anticipation of a large crowd led to a rescheduling of the hearing for Jan. 10 in the all-purpose room at Chester Elementary School.

The Jan. 10 session was cancelled that evening after more than 350 residents packed the room, with parked vehicles clogging the residential streets around the school off Ridge Road. The resident state trooper had determined the lack of parking and resulting clogged streets would have prevented emergency access to the meeting room.

Essex Selectmen to Consider Town Removal of Snow on Sidewalks

ESSEX— The board of selectmen has agreed to investigate the option of town funded removal of snow from municipal sidewalks beginning next winter in lieu of pursuing a town ordinance that would require property owners to remove snow from abutting sidewalks.

The two-inch snowfall Wednesday morning, and a bigger snowfall on Dec. 29, led First Selectman Norman Needleman to raise the subject of sidewalk snow removal at the board’s Wednesday evening meeting. Essex, unlike Chester, does not have a town ordinance that requires property owners to remove snow from abutting sidewalks subject to a fine for non-compliance. The town considered adoption of a sidewalk snow removal ordinance over a decade ago, during the administration of former First Selectman Peter Webster, but the idea was dropped after questions about enforcement and a mixed response from residents at a public hearing.

Needleman said the options are to do nothing, to pursue town meeting approval of a sidewalk snow removal ordinance, or to have the town sponsor removal of snow from its eight miles of public sidewalk. Needleman said sidewalk snow removal could be handled by the town’s public works crew and private contractors paid by the town at an undetermined cost. He noted the expense would vary from winter to winter depending on snowfall, just as the cost varies for removal of snow and ice on town roads.

With support from the board, and no calls for an ordinance, Needleman agreed to investigate the cost. The selectmen will discuss sidewalk snow removal in the winter of 2013-2014 during the preparation of the town budget that begins next month.

In other business, the board approved an expenditure of $5,000 to allow the parks and recreation commission to pursue removal of weeds that are spreading at the former Clark’s Pond in Ivoryton. The former mill pond was altered, and made more shallow, after dams broke in the great flood of June 1982. The commission hopes the weed removal would improve the remaining pond for recreational use.

Sen. Art Linares Attends Middlesex County Chamber Gathering

LinaresJan18mdlsxcmbr

Sen. Art Linares (right) listens to the concerns of an area business owner during the Jan. 18 Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast.

Sen. Linares, who serves on the Commerce and Banks Committees in the state legislature, is proposing a host of pro-business initiatives, including the elimination of the state’s business entity tax.  Sen. Linares, who co-founded a renewable energy company based in Middletown when he was 19 years old, said he hopes he will gain support for his proposal from legislators on both sides of the political aisle as well as from business owners in his district.

Sen. Linares (www.senatorlinares.com ) represents the 33rd Senate District, which includes Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Old Saybrook, Portland, and Westbrook. He can be reached at Art.Linares@cga.ct.gov or at 800 842 1421.

 

Chester Village Foundation Scholarship Recipients Share Experiences

Kym Mayer, Graduate of Penn State University; Parker Hutchinson, University of New Haven; Don O’Boyle, UConn; Luke Chase, Cornerstone University; Gabriel Chase, Graduate of Wheaton College; Jordan Saintil, Endicott College; and Dieny Charlot, Graduate of Southern Conn. State University (Photo courtesy of Chester Village West).

Kym Mayer, Graduate of Penn State University; Parker Hutchinson, University of New Haven; Don O’Boyle, UConn; Luke Chase, Cornerstone University; Gabriel Chase, Graduate of Wheaton College; Jordan Saintil, Endicott College; and Dieny Charlot, Graduate of Southern Conn. State University (Photo courtesy of Chester Village West).

Chester Village Foundation provided more than $20,000 in scholarships to employees, and children of employees. At a recent event at Chester Village, students and former students came together to share their experiences while in college and on the job since their graduations from school.

Public Hearing On Proposed Change to Chester Poultry Regulation set for Feb. 4

roosterCHESTER– The planning and zoning commission’s twice postponed public hearing on a requested change to regulations governing poultry on residential property is set for Monday Feb. 4 at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium at Valley Regional High School in Deep River.

Residents John and Bonnie Bennet of 23 Story Hill Road have petitioned for a change in zoning regulations that would prohibit roosters and other noisy fowl while continuing to allow hens. The proposed change would also increase the minimum lot size and setback requirements for properties containing poultry. Bennet, a lawyer with an office in Essex, is the long-time town attorney for Chester and a frequent moderator at town meetings.

The commission has twice postponed the required public hearing since the Bennets first petitioned for the change in November. A Dec. 6 hearing date at the Chester Meeting House, where the commission usually holds meetings, was rescheduled to Jan 10 at Chester Elementary School amid signs the proposed change was generating opposition that would bring out a large crowd.

But on Jan. 10 more than 350 people packed the all-purpose room at the school, leading the resident state trooper to order the hearing rescheduled for a larger meeting hall as dozens of vehicles clogged residential streets around the elementary school. Trooper Matt Ewing determined the number of motor vehicles parked in the area would prevent emergency access to the meeting room. The auditorium at the high school is expected to accommodate the anticipated crowd.

Meeting cancelled following withdrawal of petition

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Chester Town Meeting to Act on Solar Energy Incentive and Elderly and Disabled Tax Relief

CHESTER— Voters will be asked at a Jan. 23 town meeting to authorize a release of funds for the town hall second floor renovation, an extension of the tax relief program for elderly and disabled homeowners, and town participation in the Connecticut Solar Challenge Program. The town meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the Chester Meeting House on Liberty St.

The proposed agreement with the Connecticut Solar Challenge Program would assist the non-profit program in offering town property owners help in purchasing solar photovoltaic and solar thermal heating systems and solar heating for swimming pools. There is no cost for the town’s participation in the program, though the town will offer a flat $100 building permit fee for homeowners pursuing solar projects during a six-month period when the program is effective. The six month participation period is expected to begin later this winter.

Voters at the town meeting will be asked to authorize the release of $193,000 that has been set aside for planned renovations to the second floor of the town hall building on Route 154. The funds were obtained from the insurance settlement for the collapse of the former community center building in February 2011. The board of selectmen last month hired Nasi Group LLC of Waterford to complete the planned renovations on a low bid of $125,475.

The renovations, the first since the town hall opened in 2003, would alter office locations on the second floor and create a community meeting room that could accommodate up to 65 people. Work on the town hall renovations is expected to begin early next month, with completion expected within 60 days. Nasi Group has agreed to perform most of the work during afternoons, evenings, and weekends to limit any disruption to town hall operations.

Voters at the town meeting will also be asked to approve an extension of the town’s existing ordinance for property tax relief for elderly and disabled homeowners. The resolution would extend the ordinance and tax relief program through October 2018.

CHESTER— Voters will be asked at a Jan. 23 town meeting to authorize a release of funds for the town hall second floor renovation, an extension of the tax relief program for elderly and disabled homeowners, and town participation in the Connecticut Solar Challenge Program. The town meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the Chester Meeting House on Liberty St.
The proposed agreement with the Connecticut Solar Challenge Program would assist the non-profit program in offering town property owners help in purchasing solar photovoltaic and solar thermal heating systems and solar heating for swimming pools. There is no cost for the town’s participation in the program, though the town will offer a flat $100 building permit fee for homeowners pursuing solar projects during a six-month period when the program is effective. The six month participation period is expected to begin later this winter.
Voters at the town meeting will be asked to authorize the release of $193,000 that has been set aside for planned renovations to the second floor of the town hall building on Route 154. The funds were obtained from the insurance settlement for the collapse of the former community center building in February 2011. The board of selectmen last month hired Nasi Group LLC of Waterford to complete the planned reniovations on a low bid of $125,475.
The renovations, the first since the town hall opened in 2003, would alter office locations on the second floor and create a community meeting room that could accommodate up to 65 people. Work on the town hall renovations is expected to begin early next month, with completion expected within 60 days. Nasi Group has agreed to perform most of the work during afternoons, evenings, and weekends to limit any disruption to town hall operations.
Voters at the town meeting will also be asked to approve an extension of the town’s existing ordinance for property tax relief for elderly and disabled homeowners. The resolutiion would extend the ordinance and tax relief program through October 2018.

Chester First Selectman Ed Meehan to Commit Town to Clean Energy Communities Program

Chester First Selectman Ed Meehan is expected to sign the Clean Energy Communities pledge on Thursday, January 17, committing Chester to the program while simultaneously having a Home Energy Solutions (HES) assessment performed at his home.

Clean Energy Communities is a program that incentives cities and towns across the state to support energy efficiency and promote the use of renewable energy sources. Under the program, Chester would pledge to reduce its municipal building energy consumption by 20 percent by 2018. The city would also work with the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority to purchase 20 percent of its municipal energy needs from clean, renewable sources by 2018.

During First Selectman Meehan’s HES assessment, licensed technicians will install an average of $700 of energy efficiency products and weatherization services in a home or apartment for a $75 co-pay. On average, homeowners and renters save approximately $200 each year following its implementation.

The HES service will include identifying and sealing air leaks from windows, doors, attics and ductwork in Meehan’s home; installing hot water saving measures, including low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators, and hot water pipe insulation; and replacing incandescent bulbs with energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulbs.

Bag of Bones – Chester Historical Society Invitation to Artists

What might you create from this “bag of bones” for the Chester Historical Society’s Bone Art Challenge this winter? Dating back to the Bishop and Watrous Novelty Works in Chester in the 1930s and ‘40s, these “bones” were intended to be handles for flatware and crochet hooks (photo courtesy of Skip Hubbard)

What might you create from this “bag of bones” for the Chester Historical Society’s Bone Art Challenge this winter? Dating back to the Bishop and Watrous Novelty Works in Chester in the 1930s and ‘40s, these “bones” were intended to be handles for flatware and crochet hooks (photo courtesy of Skip Hubbard)

The Chester Historical Society has come up with another fun challenge linking Chester history and art.  This spring, those accepting the 2013 Bone Art Challenge issued by the Historical Society will be working with a “bag of bones” from the Bishop and Watrous Novelty Works. The “bones” were likely to have been handles for flatware or crochet hooks made in the 1930s and ‘40s at the Bishop and Watrous factory on Maple Street in Chester.

As with the Brooks for Hooks Challenge and the Bates Square Roots Challenge offered by the Chester Historical Society in past years, the Bishop and Watrous Bone Art Challenge is for area artists, sculptors, photographers, engineers, jewelry designers, and all others with a creative mind.

Anyone who wants to take the challenge can stop in at the Chester Gallery on Main Street in the center of Chester to fill a bag with up to 25 bones to create a piece of “Bone Art” for an entrance fee of $25, which includes a ticket to the event. The finished works will be exhibited and sold by silent auction at the Historical Society’s Bone Arts Champagne Reception on Saturday, March 23 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Chester Meetinghouse.

For more information, call Sosse Baker at Chester Gallery at 860-526-9822.

Essex Savings Bank to Contribute $257,991 to Charity

Essex Savings Bank President & CEO Gregory R. Shook

Essex Savings Bank President & CEO Gregory R. Shook

Essex, CT, January 15, 2013 – -Gregory R. Shook, President & Chief Executive Officer of Essex Savings Bank announced today, “We are extremely proud to report available contributions of $257,991 from our Community Investment Program in our 162nd year”.  The Bank annually commits 10% of its after tax net income to qualifying organizations within the immediate market area consisting of  Chester, Deep River, Essex, Lyme, Madison, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook and Westbrook.  This program provides financial support to over 200 non-profit organizations who offer outstanding services to the ever-increasing needs of our communities.  By year end, a total of $3,673,544 will have been distributed since inception in 1996.  Essex Savings Bank customers determine 30% of the fund allocations each year by voting directly for three of their favorite causes, charities or organizations who have submitted applications to participate.  Ballots will be available at all Essex Savings Bank Offices between February 1 and March 15 to determine an allocation of $77,397.  The Bank’s Directors, Senior Officers and Branch Managers distribute the remaining 70%, or $180,594.

Organizations (71) qualifying to appear on the 2013 ballot includes:

Act II Thrift Shop, Inc. * Bikes For Kids, Inc. * Bushy Hill Nature Center * Camp Claire, Inc. * Camp Hazen YMCA * Cappella Cantorum * Chester Historical Society * Child & Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut, Inc. * Common Good Gardens, Inc. * Community Music School * Con Brio Choral Society, Inc. * Connecticut Audubon Society Eco Travel * The Connecticut River Museum At Steamboat Dock * The Country School, Inc. * Deep River Ambulance Association, Inc. * Deep River Junior Ancient Fife & Drum Corps, Inc. * Essex Community Fund, Inc. * Essex Elementary School Parent-Teacher Organization, Inc. * Essex Garden Club, Inc. * Essex Historical Society, Inc. * Essex Library Association * Estuary Council of Seniors, Inc. – Meals on Wheels * Florence Griswold Museum *Forgotten Felines, Inc. * Friends In Service Here (F.I.S.H.) * Friends of Hammonasset, Inc. * Friends of Madison Youth, Inc. * Friends of the Acton Public Library * Friends of the Chester Public Library, Inc. * Friends of the Deep River Public Library, Inc. * Friends of the Valley Railroad, Inc. * Graduation Night, Inc. – Old Saybrook * Hope Partnership, Inc. * Ivoryton Library Association * Ivoryton Playhouse Foundation, Inc. * Literacy Volunteers – Valley Shore, CT, Inc. * Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts * Lyme Ambulance Association, Inc. * Lyme Art Association, Inc. * Lyme Consolidated School Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) * The Lyme Fire Company, Inc. * Lyme Land Conservation Trust, Inc. * Lyme-Old Lyme Education Foundation * Lyme-Old Lyme Junior Women’s Club (LOLJWC) * Lyme Public Hall Association, Inc. * Lyme Public Library, Inc. * Lymes’ Youth Service Bureau * Madison Ambulance Association, Inc. * Madison Historical Society, Inc. * Maritime Education Network, Inc. * Old Lyme Fire Department, Inc. * Old Lyme Historical Society, Inc. * Old Lyme Land Trust, Inc. * Old Lyme-Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library Association * Old Lyme South End Volunteer Association, Inc. * Old Lyme Visiting Nurse Association, Inc. * Old Saybrook Community Foundation, Inc. * Old Saybrook Education Foundation * Old Saybrook Fire Company Number One, Inc. * Old Saybrook Historical Society * Pet Connections, Inc. * Ruth Ann Heller Music Foundation * Scranton Library, Madison (E.C. Scranton Memorial Library) * The Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries * Tait’s Every Animal Matters (TEAM) * Tracy Art Center, Inc. * Tri-Town Youth Services Bureau, Inc. * Valley Shore Animal Welfare League * Vista Vocational & Life Skills Center, Inc. * Westbrook Project Graduation, Inc. * Westbrook Youth and Family Services, Inc.

 

Essex Savings Bank is a FDIC insured, state chartered, mutual savings bank established in 1851.  The Bank serves the Lower Connecticut River Valley with six offices in Chester, Essex (2), Madison, Old Lyme, and Old Saybrook.  Financial, estate, insurance and retirement planning are offered throughout the state by the Bank’s Trust Department and subsidiary, Essex Financial Services, Inc., Member FINRA, SIPC.  Investments in stocks, bonds, mutual funds and annuities are not FDIC insured, may lose value, are not a deposit, have no Bank guarantee and are not insured by any Federal Government Agency.

 

Big New York City Developer Humbled by Small Borough of Fenwick Historic Commission

Developer Frank Sciame, the loser in a dispute with the Borough of Fenwick Historic Commission

Developer Frank Sciame loses dispute with the Borough of Fenwick Historic Commission

A major New York City developer, Frank J. Sciame, Jr., whose many successful projects include a much praised renovation of the Morgan Library in Manhattan, has been defeated by the very small, Borough of Fenwick Historic Commission, thanks to the rulings of two recent, state court decisions.

The first loss for the New York developer was before Connecticut’s Superior Court earlier last year, and his second defeat was his more recent loss on January 7 before the state’s Appellate Court. In both cases the issue was whether the Fenwick Historic Commission had the power to order the developer to lower the height of two entry posts on his property in Fenwick, from a height of five feet to four feet.

Growth Around the Posts Pretty Much Obscures Their Height

In fairness to the developer, during the summer months the grasses around the two entrance posts grow to the point where they pretty much obscure their height. Nevertheless, the Fenwick Commission stuck to its guns in ordering the developer to lower the height of both his posts by a single foot.

As for the developer, he was equally determined to keep both posts at their present height, until he was ordered by two state courts to obey the directions of the Borough of Fenwick Historical Commission.  Accepting defeat, the developer chose not to try to take an appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court, which more than likely  would have declined to even to hear his case.

When the second case against Sciame came down, wide media coverage ensued.  What added interest to the story was that Sciame’s waterfront property in Fenwick was once owned by the famed film actress, Katherine Hepburn.  Sciame, in fact, purchased the shore-front property from the Hepburn estate, and he has spent millions to renovate it, so as to put it up for sale.

Former Katherine Hepburn estate now owned by developer Frank Sciame

Former Katherine Hepburn estate now owned by developer Frank Sciame

The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal Cover the Story

Because of the Hepburn connection both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal carried extensive articles about the ordered shortening of the two entrance posts by a single foot in Fenwick. The New York Times article by Elizabeth A. Harris was headlined, “Where Hepburn Lived, Last Act in Legal Drama Over Posts’ Heights.” The Wall Street Journal article, written by the Associated Press, was headlined, “Owner of Hepburn Estate Loses Appeal on Post Size.”

The former Hepburn property, now owned by Sciame, is located at 10 Mohegan Avenue in the Fenwick section of Old Saybrook. Of particular importance in its opinion the Appellate Court noted that “The property lies in the Fenwick Historic District, which is subject to the jurisdiction of the commission.”

In short, the court is reaffirming that Sciame’s property is both located within the boundaries of Fenwick Historic District, and that Fenwick Commission has the power to decide the present case.

Sciame’s Losing Arguments before the Appellate Court

In vain Sciame argued before the Appellate Court that the Fenwick Historic Commission lacked the statutory power to order the one foot lowering of the height of his two gate posts.  The Appellate Court also rejected Sciame’s claim that by ordering the shortening of the two entry posts by a single foot, he was entitled to damages from the Fenwick Commission for the “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

Even though Sciame gives the impression that he is a typical, “tough as nails” New York developer, he argued before the Appellate Court that by ordering the shortening of his two gate posts, the Fenwick Historic Commission had hurt his feelings by engaging in “harassment and demands” against him, and that it “continued to harass and annoy“ him.

One of Sciame two gate posts crudely shortened to a height of four feet

One of Sciame two gate posts crudely shortened to a height of four feet

Left unmentioned by Sciame in his argument before the Appellate Court was the fact at that one point in the controversy, he tried to claim that he had shortened the posts by means of building up, by a single foot, the bases surrounding the posts. With these two, foot high bases in place, Sciame then claimed that the posts were in fact four feet in height.

However, when this strained interpretation was rejected, the developer simply chopped off the tops of the two posts by one foot each. However, even in his belated compliance with the Historic Commission’s order, the developer persisted with his lawsuit, until he was defeated in the ruling of the Appellate Court.

Sciame to Develop Major Residential Project in Essex

Even with the chapter now closed on Sciame’s dispute with the Fenwick Historic Commission in Old Saybrook, the developer is continuing to play a major role in the development of local shoreline properties. In fact, in Essex he was recently designated by the Essex Planning Commission to develop a major residential property at Foxboro Point.

Essex Foxboro Point site to be developed by Sciame

Essex Foxboro Point site to be developed by Sciame

At one point in this proceeding the Essex Planning Commission took under consideration a proposal that the developer create a “public access” pathway across the development property running from Foxboro Road down to the waters of North Cove.

However, after a questionable “closed” meeting, to which the general public was excluded, the Essex Planning Commission rejected this “public access” proposal, and adopted instead a plan that permitted only a “visual access” to the North Cove waters below. This, obviously, was a very different proposition from creating a “public access” pathway across the development property leading to these waters.

Also, in making its decision the Essex Planning Commission chose not to follow the example of the Fenwick Historic Commission of standing up to developer Frank Sciame, who has shown that he is prepared to spend his money on extensive court appeals.

Settlement Agreement Resolves Long-Running Labor Dispute with Former Essex Police Officer

ESSEX— A settlement agreement approved last month by the board of selectmen and the retirement committee has resolved a long-running labor dispute with former town police officer Salvatore Bevilacqua.

The “general release and settlement agreement,”  that was signed by the parties in early November was approved by the board of selectmen on Dec. 3, and the retirement committee on Dec. 11. The Essex Police Union, Local 660, International Brotherhood of Police Officers is also a party to the agreement.

The settlement is intended to resolve disputes that began after Bevilacqua, formerly of Deep River, went on medical leave in the fall of 2010. Bevilacqua did not return to duty, and was eventually dismissed by First Selectman Norman Needleman last spring after he was unable to return to work. But the settlement document specifies that Bevilacqua “retired from employment with the town,” on April 27, 2012.

In the preceding months, Bevilacqua, often in consultation with a union representative, had filed a series of grievances under the police contract. He eventually filed formal complaints with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities and the state Board of Mediation and Arbitration.

Some of the grievances and complaints predated the November 2011 town election, when Needelman, a Democrat, was elected to succeed former Democratic First Selectman Phil Miller, who is now a state representative. Needleman served on the board of selectmen with Miller. While no lawsuit was filed, language in the settlement agreement indicates Bevilacqua may have been preparing to file a state and or federal lawsuits against the town over unspecified issues related to his employment and medical leave.

But under the settlement agreement, Bevilacqua agreed to withdraw all pending complaints, and not to pursue any future legal actions against the town, current or former elected officials, or the Essex Police Union. As part of the settlement, Bevilacqua received a one time payment from the town of $9,900, an amount that is below the threshold where a town meeting vote would be required to approve the appropriation.

Bevilacqua, who was hired as a town police officer in the summer of 2007 after training at the Connecticut Police Academy in Meriden, will also receive a pension benefit of $1,200 per month, beginning in November 2012. The monthly payment is not subject to cost of living adjustments. Meeting minutes for the board of selectmen and retirement committee indicate the pension payment is related to a disability claim. Bevilacqua will not receive, and has agreed not to seek, any reimbursement from the town for any legal expenses incurred during the disputes.

Needleman said last week he recommended approval of the settlement based on advice from the town’s labor lawyer, Nicholas Grello with the Hartford firm of Siegal, O’Connor, O’Donnell & Beck. Needleman said the settlement would allow the town to avoid the threat of further costly litigation with Bevilacqua.

Large Crowd Forces Postponement of Chester Hearing on Poultry Regulations

CHESTER— A large crowd and inadequate parking Thursday forced the postponement of the public hearing on a controversial petition to amend zoning regulations to prohibit the keeping of roosters and capons on residential property.

More than 300 residents, some wearing knit hats shaped like chickens, packed the all-purpose room at Chester Elementary School Thursday night to voice their opposition to a petition by local residents John and Bonnie Bennet to amend zoning regulations to prohibit roosters and capons, while adding other restrictions to the keeping of poultry on residential property. While the size of the crowd was exceeding the 324 persons capacity for the school all purpose room, it was a lack of parking for the vehicles that brought people to the school that led to the postponement and rescheduling of the public hearing.

Resident State Trooper Matt Ewing told the crowd that parking along Ridge Road, the school driveway, and other streets around the school, would block access in the event of an emergency, particularly a medical emergency that could require an ambulance. Amid grumbles from the crowd, Ewing announced the public hearing would have to be postponed and rescheduled for the Valley Regional High School auditorium in Deep River.

The Bennets, of 23 Story Hill Road, are seeking to amend the regulations to prohibit keeping of roosters and capons, but allow the continued keeping of hens. The proposed amendments would also increase the minimum lot size and setback requirements for properties with poultry, and other smaller animals such as rabbits. John Bennet, a lawyer with an office in Essex, is the longtime town attorney for Chester and a frequent moderator at town meetings. One televised new report indicated the Bennets have been bothered by noise from poultry being raised by a neighbor, William Vile of 22 Story Hill Road.

A new date for the public hearing had not been set as of Friday. First Selectman Edmund Meehan said he is checking with school officials to determine dates when the high school auditorium would be available to accommodate a large crowd.

Thursday was the second time the public hearing on the proposed changes to poultry regulations has been rescheduled. The hearing was originally set for Dec. 6 at the Chester Meeting House, the commission’s usual meeting spot. But anticipation of a large crowd led to a change to the Jan. 10 date at the elementary school.

Essex Books is a World Book Night Site

World Book Night is April 23, 2013. Essex Books at Gather, 104 Main Street, Ivoryton, will be a World Book Night site again this year!

Apply to be a World Book Night book giver by January 23 through the World Book Night site www.us.worldbooknight.org and request to pick up your books at Essex Books!

Stae Senator Art Linares Begins Work at State Capitol

LinaresJan9oath

Sen. Art Linares takes the oath of office on the first day of the 2013 session of the Connecticut General Assembly. The 24 year old Westbrook resident represents the 33rd Senate District, which encompasses Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Old Saybrook, Portland, and Westbrook. Linares has been named Ranking Member of the Connecticut General Assembly’s Banks Committee and Ranking Member of the Select Committee on Children. Linares will also serve on the Commerce and Education Committees. His website iswww.senatorlinares.com and he can be reached at 800 842 1421.

View video of Sen. Art Linares’ address during opening day of the Connecticut General Assembly’s 2013 Legislative Session at this link:

http://ctsenaterepublicans.com/2013/01/sen-linares-introduces-his-family-during-opening-day-of-session-video/

Deep River Selectmen Consider Offer of Pratt Read Reservoir

DEEP RIVER— The board of selectmen is considering an offer from the Kelsey Falls Association to donate the Pratt Read Reservoir, including a dam and surrounding land, to the town for open space and limited recreational uses.

The homeowners association made the offer in a letter presented in November to First Selectman Richard Smith. The reservoir and immediate shoreline total about 20.5 acres located along the south side of West Elm Street, with access in the vicinity of the dam that is located almost directly across from the Deep River Oil company property. The reservoir borders several residential properties on Falls Landing Road and West Elm Street that comprise the homeowners association.

Travis Board, a member of the association’s executive board, noted in the letter the reservoir is used for fishing, including ice fishing and skating in the winter months, and canoeing during warmer weather.

With a depth of only about four feet in most areas, the reservoir is not suitable for swimming. Board noted in the letter the association has concluded “the town may be in a much better position to keep up the property.”

The offer from the association received a positive response from the board of selectmen at a meeting Tuesday. Smith said town attorney Jane Marsh is reviewing the process that would be required for the town to accept ownership of the reservoir, a step that would require approval from voters at a town meeting. Smith, noting that there “doesn’t appear to be any real negatives,” in the association offer, said a final vote on accepting the property could be preceded by an informational public hearing.

In other business, the board formally accepted a sewer line extension on Lord’s Lane that was completed earlier this year. The 1,000-foot extension of the sewer line extension will serve seven residential properties. The hook-in fee for homeowners will be $2,000. Smith said further extensions of the sewer line are planned for the area.

Appointments Confirmed

Voters at a brief town meeting that followed Tuesday’s board of selectmen meeting unanimously confirmed six appointments to the planning and zoning commission and zoning board of appeals. All of the appointments are reappointments of incumbent board or commission members.

Confirmed for new three-year terms on the planning and zoning commission are Jonathan Kastner and Liegh Balducci, along with alternate member John Attridge. The new terms expire in December 2015. Kastner serves as chairman of the commission. Confirmed for new terms on the zoning board of appeals are Lenore Kuhn, Edward Judd, and Charles Rayner. The terms end in December 2015.

Bennie’s New Owners to Expand Services at Popular Farm Market in Centerbrook

Bennie's famous front awning will not change

Bennie’s famous front awning will not change

Although the popular Bennie’s Farm Market will remain, essentially, the same under its new ownership, some major changes are on the way. Located at 5 Main Street in the Centerbrook section of Essex, the new owners of Bennie’s are members of the Patel family, who were originally from India.

According to Sky Patel, the family member now in overall charge of Bennie’s, going forward Bennie’s will put an even greater emphasis on offering, top of the line, prime meats. “We do exceptionally well with our prime roast beef,” Patel noted in a recent interview.

Sky Patel, the family member in overall charge of the new Bennie's

Sky Patel, the family member in overall charge of the new Bennie’s

Also, under Sky Patel’s direction the new Bennie’s will add a new home delivery services for area residents. Patel recognizes that during the winter months some of Bennie’s patrons, particularly seniors, have difficulty coming to the market. “So we’ll go to them, “is the way he puts it.

[The number to call for Bennie’s home delivery service is 860-767-8448.]

Also, under Bennie’s new management there will be a new emphasis in offering a wide range of catering services. Patel says that Bennie’s will now offer catering services for all occasions, such as weddings, corporate events and extended family get to gathers.

In addition to the market’s new catering services, Bennie’s will offer in its sales repertoire Italian gourmet food and Pasta Vista selections.

If anything, Bennie's will have a brighter look under the Patel family

If anything, Bennie’s will have a brighter look under the Patel family

Former Owner Operated Bennie’s for 33 Years

The previous owner of Bennie’s, David Costa, operated Bennie’s Farm Market for over 33 years. The name “Bennie’s,” incidentally, comes from the first name of David’s father, who himself owned the market before his son.

David Costa then sold the market to the Patel family late, last November, and according to Sky Patel, the new owners have promised to retain all of the present senior staff at the market.

For example, Bennie’s Deli Manager Karl Kulisch, who himself has worked at Bennie’s for 13 years, will continue working behind the counter under the new management. As for the reasons for selling Bennie’s, according to Kulisch, “David wanted to retire, and he got a good offer. So he accepted it.”

Bennie's Deli Manager Karl Kukusch, a 13 year store veteran

Bennie’s Deli Manager Karl Kulisch, a 13 year store veteran

New Owners Have Wide Experience in Running Food Markets

The new owners of Bennie’s are by no means strangers to operating retail food stores in Connecticut. In addition to their recent acquisition of Benny’s Farm Market, the Patel family owns the popular Bliss Market in Wethersfield, as well as a Krauszer’s Deli in East Hartford and the Dairy Farm in Glastonbury.

Family member Avani Patel has joined the Bennie's staff

Family member Avani Patel has joined the Bennie’s staff

At the family’s “upscale” Bliss Market in Wethersfield, home delivery of food items has been a great success, according to Patel. He anticipates that such services will be a success as well at Bennie’s.

As time goes by, Patel says that he intends to give Bennie’s an evolving new look. Also, there will be an increase in Sunday hours, from the present 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., to 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday thru Saturday hours will remain the same, 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

As for its operation of Bennie’s Farm Market, so far, according to chief owner, Sky Patel, “Customers have been really nice.” Also, he personally reaffirms, “The present staff is really good, and all of the senior staff is staying.”

Summing up his experience in Essex so far, Patel says with a smile, “Essex is a really great town.”

Talking Transportation: The Five Biggest Lies About Highway Tolls

Jim CameronLike it or not, get ready to pay tolls on our Interstates and Parkways.  Transportation officials in Hartford say there’s just no other way to raise badly needed money for over-due infrastructure repairs.  Tolls may not be popular, but neither are collapsing bridges.

In the last decade’s debate on highway tolling, here are the five biggest lies that opponents have used to stall the return of highway tolls:

1)    The Federal Government Won’t Let Us:  Also known as “We’ll have to return millions in federal funding”.  Not true, as US DOT officials told us at a SWRPA-sponsored meeting in Westport years ago.  The federal government regularly allows tolls to be used as traffic mitigation and revenue raising tools.

2)    Our Highways Should Be Free:  So should ice cream and donuts.  Nothing is free, including the cost of repairing I-95 and removing snow from the Merritt.  Gasoline taxes come nowhere near to raising the needed revenue. Driving is a privilege, not a right. It should come with a cost.

3)    Tolls Will Slow Traffic:  It’s not 1965 anymore.  Tolling doesn’t require highway-wide barriers with booths and gates.  Just look at the NJ Turnpike or Garden State Parkway, where barrier-free tolls using EZPass allow you to pay at 55 mph.

4)    Tollbooths Cause Accidents:   See #3 above.  This happened once, 29 years ago, in Milford, and was used as an excuse to end tolling in the state.  If toll barriers are unsafe, why don’t fiery truck crashes happen daily at the hundreds of other toll barriers around the US?

5)    Highway Tolls Will Divert Traffic to Local Roads:     This may be true, for about the first week.  If people would rather drive for free on the Boston Post Road than pay 50 cents to save an hour by taking I-95, let ‘em.  Few drivers are that cheap, or stupid.

Trust me, I know about tolls and toll booths. I spent three summers in college working as a toll collector on the Tappan Zee Bridge.  Back then the toll was only 50 cents to cross the mighty Hudson, but people still didn’t like paying it.  (Today the toll is $5).

Connecticut pioneered toll roads as early as the late 18th century.  But today our state is facing billions in over-due bridge and highway repairs.  And federal aid for transportation may be cut by a third. So why are we in this current mess?  Who’s to blame?  Us!

We’re the ones that stupidly pushed CT lawmakers to cut the gas tax 14 cents a gallon in 1997.  And we’re the ones making it political suicide for legislators today to say they support tolls, even though they know tolls are inevitable.

Pick your poison:  “free” driving on pothole-filled highways with collapsing bridges… or pay a few bucks for a safe, speedy ride.

I vote for the tolls.

JIM CAMERON has been a commuter out of Darien for 21 years.  He is Chairman of the CT Metro-North / Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM.  You can reach him at Cameron06820@gmail.com or www.trainweb.org/ct

Con Brio Youth Choir Auditions to be Held in Feb. 2 & 9

Con Brio Choral Society

Con Brio Choral Society

CENTERBROOK – Community Music School and Con Brio Choral Society present the Con Brio Youth Choir, directed by Lisa Feltes, for students in grades 3 through 8. The Con Brio Youth Choir is a three part choir that will bring together young voices from throughout the community to perform John Rutter’s beautifully written Mass of the Children at Con Brio’s spring concert on Sunday, April 28, 2013.

Auditions are February 2 and 9 at Community Music School, 90 Main Street, Centerbrook and reservations can be made by calling 860-767-0026. Upon acceptance, there is a $25 registration fee. Rehearsals begin Saturday, March 9 and continue on Saturday mornings (9:30-10:45 am.) through April 20 (no rehearsal March 30). Two additional dress rehearsals are scheduled for April 23 and 25 at Christ the King Church in Old Lyme from 6:30 to 8 pm.

Lisa Feltes has been working with children for over 30 years. She has directed the Children’s Choirs at First Congregational Church of Old Lyme for the past 12 years, is director of Saint Nickolas Songsters for Make We Joy, and presently teaches general/vocal music for pre K-8 in the Preston Public Schools.

For additional information, please visit www.community-music-school.org or www.conbrio.org

 

Chester Zoning Hearing on Changes to Poultry Regulations Set for Thursday

CHESTER— The planning and zoning commission public hearing on a requested change to zoning regulations governing poultry will open Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the all-purpose room at Chester Elementary School. The hearing, originally set for Dec. 6, was rescheduled and moved from the commission’s usual meeting spot, Chester Meeting House, in anticipation of a large crowd.

John and Bonnie Bennet, of 23 Story Hill Road, have petitioned the commission to amend regulations governing poultry to prohibit the keeping on any property roosters and capons, particularly any “fowl which crows, calls, screeches, squaks, or makes similar other sounds, including but not limited to guinea fowl, peacocks or pea hens, geese, parrots, macaws or similar calling species.”

The language proposed by the Bennets would allow the keeping of hens and rabbits, but would also increase the minimum lot size requirement of the parcel for keeping of hens and rabbits from the current 10,000-square feet to a minimum lot size of 40,000-square feet. It would also increase the setback requirement for an enclosure keeping hens or rabbits from the current 50-feet to a minimim setback of 100-feet from “any dwelling in existence.”

Bennet, a lawyer with an office in Essex, has served as town attorney for Chester for several years and is a frequent moderator at town meetings. He does not serve as legal counsel for the planning and zoning commission. Bonnie Bennet is a former town judge of probate.

In the weeks since the public hearing on the proposed zoning amendments was rescheduled, Bennet has withdrawn one provision of the proposed amendment that referred to “noisy fowl and other animals,” including animals that howl or bark and could be considered a nuisance to residents in the immediate neighborhood.

Rotary Clubs buy Freezer for the Estuary

Rotary Freezer 002

Pictured from left to right are: John Donnelly, OS Rotary; Keith Wescovitch, President OS Rotary; Gerri Lewis, President-elect OS Rotary; Paula Ferrara, Executive Director ESCI; Maria Varga, President Clinton Rotary; Kevin Brewer, President Deep River Rotary and Bill McLaughlin, OS Rotary.

Recently The Rotary Club of Old Saybrook became aware of a desperate need for a new heavy duty shelf freezer for The Estuary Council of Seniors Inc. at the Old Saybrook facility. A heavy duty freezer is an integral piece of equipment used in the storage of meals in support of the “Meals on Wheels” program. ESCI provides nearly 100,000 meals a year to folks in The Estuary region.

After learning of The Estuary’s need for a new freezer, The Rotary Club of Old Saybrook applied for a matching grant from the Foundation of Rotary District 7980 www.rotary7980.org for money to replace the freezer. A grant in the amount of $2,500.00 was awarded.  The Rotary Club of Old Saybrook then invited the Rotary Clubs in The Estuary District to join in this effort.  The Rotary Clubs of Chester, Clinton, Essex, and Deep River each contributed $500.00, with The Rotary Club of Old Saybrook www.osrotary.org making up the difference to provide ESCI with $5,200.00 to purchase and install the new freezer.

The freezer has been purchased, installed and is in full operation, doing its job of storing the meals for “Meals on Wheels.”

Shoreline Bus Usage Continues to Grow

9 town transit bus2Once again 9 Town Transit has seen large growth in ridership.  Extended service hours, regional connections, new service in Haddam and improved awareness contributed to growth of 15% during 2012.

Since 2009, 9 Town Transit has greatly expanded the reach and hours of its services.  Public bus service is now available from the shoreline to New Haven, New London, Middletown and Hartford, all for a fare of $1.50.   Most services now begin around 6:00 AM and end at 7:00 PM or later.  Connections are offered to four neighboring transit systems.

In addition to service improvements, 9 Town Transit has been actively promoting awareness of public transit options in the region.  This has included a new website, brightly painted buses, bus stop signage throughout the region, print advertising and participations in community events.

These factors contributed to a total annual ridership of just under 98,500 passenger trips, an 83% increase since 2009.  About half of all trips are now work related.  All services are open to the general public.

Additional information, route maps and schedules are available online at www.9towntransit.com or by calling 9 Town Transit at 860-510-0429.

State Senator Art Linares Jr. Assigned to Four Legislative Committees

State Senator-Elect Art Linares

State Senator-Elect Art Linares

AREAWIDE— Republican State Senator Art Linares Jr. has been assigned to the Legislature’s Banking, Commerce, and Education committees, along with the Select Committee on Children, as he prepares to take office representing the 33rd Senate District when the 2013 legislative session opens Wednesday.

Linares, a 24-year old Westbrook resident, was elected in November to the 33rd District seat held for two decades by former Democratic State Senator Eileen Daily of Westbrook. Linares defeated Democrat Jim Crawford and Green Party nominee Melissa Schlag to become the first Republican elected in the district since former State Senator Ed Munster of Haddam held the seat from 1990-1992. The district includes the towns of Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Portland, Westbrook and portions of Old Saybrook.

In the committee assignments announced by Republican Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, Linares was named as ranking Republican member for the Banking Committee and the Select Committee on Children, while receiving a spot on the Commerce and Education committees.

Free Opera at the Library, Pavarotti – Jan. 21

Singers Aprile Millo and Luciano Pavarotti in Verdi’s opera Un Ballo In Maschera, which will screen at the Essex Library Monday January 21 at 2 p.m.  (Photo Metropolitan Opera)

Singers Aprile Millo and Luciano Pavarotti in Verdi’s opera Un Ballo In Maschera. (Photo Metropolitan Opera)

Everybody loves Luciano, the golden-voiced tenor whose popularity crossed nearly every musical genre.  The Essex Library presents a classic 1991 performance of Verdi’s Un Ballo In Maschera filmed at the Metropolitan Opera and featuring Luciano Pavarotti and Aprile Millo, conducted by James Levine on Monday January 21 at 2 p.m. Enjoy this grand-scale feature and the magnificent voices of these opera greats on our big screen and fabulous Bose sound system.

No registration is necessary, and the program is free and open to all, so bring your music-loving friends. The Essex Library is at 33 West Avenue.

Sailing Across the Atlantic – Essex Couple Tell Story at Essex Library – Jan. 22

Bob and Valerie Van Houten (center and right) on the boat they sailed across the Atlantic from Essex, CT to England in 1976. They’ll share the harrowing story of their adventures along with their photos at the Essex Library Tuesday January 22 at 7 p.m.. The program is free and open to all.

Bob and Valerie Van Houten (center and right) on the boat they sailed across the Atlantic from Essex, CT to England in 1976.

Ever dream of sailing a small boat across the ocean? Enjoy an illustrated armchair cruise with a husband and wife team who did exactly that at the Essex Library, Tuesday January 22 at 7 p.m. when Bob and Valerie Van Houten will share their harrowing account of delivering a 38 foot sailboat 3,000 miles from Essex to England in 1976.

The boat was built for one person to race, and was very, very basic, and the crew of five included a teenaged brother and sister. The Van Houtens agree their adventure was “a pretty rough voyage”, but the experience of a lifetime.

The program is free and open to all; the Essex Library is at 33 West Avenue. Please call for more information or to register for this program.

Deep River’s First Selectman Participates in the “Share the Love” Campaign

Deep River’s very own First Selectman, Richard Smith joined the “Share the Love”  Meals on Wheels Holiday Campaign by personally delivering a meal

Deep River First Selectman, Richard Smith joined the “Share the Love” Meals on Wheels Holiday Campaign by personally delivering a meal

Deep River’s very own First Selectman, Richard Smith joined the “Share the Love”  Meals on Wheels Holiday Campaign by personally delivering a meal. Selectman Smith is just one of many special guests paying visits to seniors this holiday season during the Subaru and Meals on Wheels of America national “Share the Love” campaign.

The Meals on Wheels Program delivered nearly 60,000 nutritious meals to seniors in Old Saybrook, Westbrook, Old Lyme, Lyme, Killingworth, Madison, Essex, Deep River, Clinton and Chester this past year.

Locally Reynolds Subaru of Lyme has partnered with the Estuary Council of Seniors, Inc., in helping to make this holiday season a bit special for seniors along the shoreline.  They have donated the use of one of their automobiles to be used throughout the six week campaign for meal delivery by members of their own family, staff and many civic groups. The campaign continues through the new year with local Rotary Clubs, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Vista Volunteers and First Selectmen from all the shoreline towns paying visits to seniors as they deliver meals along with holiday cards and plants donated by area nurseries.

As one of the five Subaru “Share the Love” event charitable partners, the Meals on Wheels Association of America (MOWAA) is awarding $200,000 in “Share the Love” grants to local Meals on Wheels programs that partner with Subaru dealerships in the fight to end senior hunger. The Estuary Council of Seniors, Inc. is eligible to win a MOWAA-Subaru “Share the Love” grant of up to $35,000 to help provide hot, nutritious meals to homebound seniors in all ten towns it serves. Hayden Reynolds is spearheading a “matching funds competition” and hopes that many other local businesses will join him. If you are interested in providing a tax deductible financial match or a partial match to the grant they hope will be awarded to The Estuary Council of Seniors please contact Sandy at 860 388-1611.

Deep River Fire Department Holds Annual Election of Officers

The Deep River Fire Department held it’s Annual Election Officers on January 2, 2013. The results of those elections are as follows;

Chief: Timothy Lee
Deputy Chief: James Budney
Assistant Chief: Timothy Ballantyne
Assistant Chief: Robert Raymond
Chief Engineer: Jack White
Secretary: John Kollmer Sr.
Treasurer: James Dee Jr.
Trustee: Richard Sypher

If you are interest in becoming a member of the Deep River Volunteer Fire Department please visit our their website, www.deepriverfd.com, for full details or stop by the firehouse any Wednesday evening.

Essex Selectmen Seek One Way Traffic for Connector Road at Route 9 Exit 3

ESSEX— The board of selectmen will ask the state Department of Transportation to make a small connector road near the Route 9 Exit 3 interchange one way for southbound traffic only. The board Wednesday endorsed an effort by First Selectman Norman Needleman to request the change.

The road, extending only about a quarter-mile, connects Main Street (Middlesex Avenue) to the northern end of Plains Road, and the exit 3 southbound on ramp for Route 9. It currently allows traffic both ways, creating a short cut that allows motorists to avoid a nearby traffic light at the three way intersection of Main Street, Plains Road, and West Avenue.

The change recommended by the selectmen would allow southbound traffic only on the connecter. Needleman said making a left, northbound turn on to the connector has become increasingly hazardous for motorists crossing southbound traffic on Plains Road and approaching the Route 9 ramp. He said the hazard is greater at busy times of the day. “I’m not sure if the DOT will agree with it or not, but it’s worth a try,” Needleman said.

The idea of making the connector road one way had been discussed in 2004 in relation to a proposal to build a new chain pharmacy on the nearby former L.C. Doane Company property, but the idea faded after the zoning commission denied a special permit for the pharmacy project.

Campaign Ends with Students Delivering Meals to Seniors

2012 DecShare the Love12

After four weeks of participation by the ten shoreline first selectmen, local rotary clubs, VISTA volunteers and Reynolds Subaru family and staff delivering meals to seniors, area students took their turn at bringing holiday cheer to shoreline seniors on December 19th.

Area Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops along with Old Saybrook and Westbrook Interact Club students gathered at the Estuary Council of Seniors in Old Saybrook to prepare for their distribution of holiday gifts.  The students delivered meals to 250 Meals on Wheels Shoreline seniors along with holiday cards made by them.  They also presented the residents with poinsettias and other holiday plants donated by Grove Gardens and Clinton Nurseries of Clinton, VanWilgens of North Branford, Riggio’s of Essex and the Old Saybrook Walmart store.

Estuary volunteers and staff, including Executive Director, Paula Ferrara,  Bill McLaughlin from the Old Saybrook Rotary Club, VISTA volunteers and Westbrook First Selectman Noel Bishop were on hand to serve hot chocolate and donuts to the students and to thank them for their time and effort in making the holidays a little brighter for shoreline seniors.

My crazy trip to California! Part 2

Amtrak-trainIt was crazy! I thought I’d be flying on a Boeing. Instead, United Airlines put me on Amtrak!

In brief: I missed my long cross-country flight! Through no fault of my own. And other bad things sprang up, too.

First, a Flash Back: For nearly 20 years I’ve been taking off to California for Christmas and to re-unite with milady Annabelle. She lives in a sunny place with no ice and no snow.

Recently I sent you a post saying that I was all set for this big trip. Had booked my trip on tried and true United Airlines.

Told you that my getting to California always involves three flights: a short flight to a major air hub, then the long flight across the country to California, then a short flight to San Luis Obisbo. My daughter Monique lives 15 miles north of there, in Morro Bay.

But! My confirmation from United showed something totally surprising: my first leg was going to be not a flight, but a train ride on Amtrak! And this also surprised the people at Old Saybrook Amtrak—they had never heard of such an arrangement.

Now the sequel!

Well, that Amtrak ride provided by United was from New Haven to Newark Airport. Amtrak stops there. But how would I get to New Haven from my Deep River? That’s a good one-hour ride.

What turned out to be the easiest was to buy a ticket on that same Amtrak train from Old Saybrook to New Haven. That way I’d ride the train right to Newark Airport.

On my departure morning, my friend Woody Boynton gave me a ride to the depot in Old Saybrook. That turned out to be the best thing that happened to me all day. The bad things were still to come.

The train was already quite full. Every row of seats had at least one seat taken. So I chose a seat next to a small person. Success.

I had a lot of stuff. I had to have a lot. I wasn’t going for 3 days. I was going for more than 3 months!

So, I had a big suitcase jammed as full as United would accept without overcharge. Plus a big handbag also jammed full, and as big as I could squeeze into the plane’s overhead bin. Plus my laptop computer and many accessories jammed into its own shoulder bag.

Furthermore, I was wearing a warm zippered vest and winter jacket and a hat. And I had my walking stick, which I need for any serious walking–this would take much serious walking! So I was loaded down.

In New Haven, I stayed on the same train, of course. But the conductor had changed. He shook his head when I showed him my United confirmation. Was baffled. He pocketed the letter and said he would get back to me. He returned in 20 minutes and said I would not have to pay—he was satisfied the United Airlines confirmation was legitimate.

Some people love riding a train. I’m happy for them. I’ve used trains a lot, in the U.S. and other countries. I can’t get excited. Tracks are laid out to be the most practical…meaning to avoid all hills. Not to show us the best views and give the most interesting ride.

In cities, all you get to see are the worst neighborhoods…the backyards of the factories and warehouses, plus the backyards of houses in some of the worst neighborhoods. New York City is an example. Ride into New York City on a train and you get an awful impression. You’d say, “No way would I want to live there!” Well, that’s how I feel about it.

And the backs of the seats are so high that you cannot see ahead. It’s awful. If you’re 6’6” tall, you can. But I’m not 6’6”. And I hate being boxed in that way.

Plus, walking on a train in motion is dangerous! Much rocking and bumping even on an Amtrak com! There are times when you do have to walk and risk your life—to get to the toilet and the food car, and sometimes to get to an exit on the train. I’ll bet a surprising number of folks fall and hurt themselves in a year.

In my opinion, inter-city buses are much better. More interesting. More comfortable. On a bus, looking through a window gives you a more representative view of the country you’re riding across.

I’ve ridden Greyhound all the way across the country from the Atlantic to the Pacific three times, plus to other locales, plus nearly all the way across Canada. I favor Greyhound. It’s more of an adventure. It’s also cheaper, by the way.

Finally we were approaching the Newark Airport stop. An announcement said, “Next stop in 3 minutes!” By now every seat was taken. Many were getting off here. Many leaped up while the train was rocking along. Began grabbing their suitcases and stuff.

No way could I do that. I have a balance problem now—the result of going deaf in my right ear a year ago. I’d be nuts to dare stand before the train came to a dead halt.

When it did stop, I got up. The aisle was jammed with people. I had a hard time retrieving all my stuff. My jacket was pushed far back on the rack above. I had to get a tall guy to reach up and take it down for me.

Now everybody was pushing to get off the train. I was at the end of the long line, which was moving slowly. Just as I got to the door out the train, it closed! I tried and tried. No way could I get it to open. The train began rolling! I was frantic! My flight would be taking off in 1 hour and 40 minutes! Would I miss my flight to San Francisco? And my public talk in the morning?

At 10:30 a.m., I was booked to give a long-arranged talk at the Morro Bay Public Library. It’s the hometown library of Monique and David. They had arranged the talk for me. I give such talks quite often.

But a young woman had seen my plight. She ran to get the conductor. He wasn’t in our car. She rushed on to the next car. She came back and threw up her hands in frustration. Bless her! Finally he showed up.

“We gave you a 3-minute notice!” he told me sternly. He looked irritated. I’m the one who should have looked irritated!

“Impossible!” I said to him.” Too many people trying to get off! I tried! Do you think I would have missed the stop on purpose?!”

“Get off at the next stop!” he told me. He ordered to to sit down. I had been standing with all my stuff by the vestibule, leaning into a corner to make sure I didn’t fall. The tracks always look nice and smooth and flat. You expect a nice smooth ride. Not so!

“I’ll come back when we stop,“ he snapped. “I’ll tell you what to do then!” And he stormed off.

I kept hoping the train would stop at any minute. I needed every minute to make my flight! It took a long time, whatever it was…10 minutes, 12 minutes. The conductor returned just in time…ushered me off. I had so much to carry. He pointed to an elevator 75 feet away….told me to take it down…then walk across to the other side of the tracks…take the elevator up…stop at the ticket office on that side and explain…then take the next train back to the Newark Airport stop. But how long would all that take?

I did as he said. Walked to the elevator dragging all my stuff. Not easy. I was alone at the elevator. I pushed this button and that one. None of the buttons was marked. Finally the door opened and I got in with everything.

Inside, 6 buttons! Maybe 8! I was so anxious it was hard for me to notice. Not one said “Down” or “Up.” I kept trying for the Down button. No luck. Unbelievable. I looked for help. No help around. I kept stabbing the buttons. This was crazy. I was losing precious time. Finally, finally I got the car to start Down!

Somehow I got out. Dragged everything through the tunnel to the other side. Went to the elevator there. A woman was getting in. She held the door open for me, thank God. She pushed a button. We started Up. She did it all so easily it made me feel like a klutz.

Up top, I dragged everything into the ticket office. Surprising I wasn’t having a heart attack. The clerk was busy with a customer. More time wasting! Finally I explained to her. She shook her head unbelievingly. Made me, 83 years old and going on too soon to 84, feel like a naughty kid. Handed me a complimentary ticket.

In four long, long minutes the train pulled in. I managed to get on with everything. Found a seat near the door, lucky me. The train started. I kept looking at my watch. Rushed to get off at the next stop. Shouldn’t have rushed. Dangerous. But made it all

Big mistake! This was not a through train! This was a local! I had two more stops to go! What!!! No choice. More precious minutes drained by. Finally the next train pulled up. It, too, was a local, of course, so slower. I struggled and got on. I kept thinking, What’s the use of continuing this mad rush? No way would I make my flight. But I had to try!

A young woman had noticed my difficulties. And my anxiety. She was getting off at the airport, too. She had one suitcase of her own to handle plus a giant handbag. But she insisted on taking my big suitcase in hand. God bless her! She was no Amazon. Anything but. But at our stop, she hopped off. So nimble! With all that stuff! I had to be extra careful. Embarrassing.

On the platform, she said, “Let’s go! Let’s go !” I followed her as fast as I could without breaking my neck. She led the way into the big station. Found an Amtrak guy and explained my problem. “That way!” he said, pointing. She steamed ahead. I struggled to keep up. At one point I was 15 steps behind. Then 30. She kept looking back. Realized I was trying hard. Then we entered the terminal She led me right into the huge airport terminal.

She asked for directions. Led the way to an airport train. It rides a long circuit from gate to gate. No driver on board. All automatic. We had to wait for it. I asked her about herself. She had a foreign accent. I tried to guess what it was. Couldn’t.

She was sweet. Told me she was a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering at Rutgers University. Had won a scholarship of some kind. Mechanical engineering! She looked so feminine. The world IS changing.

She was from Turkey—Istanbul! She told me that very proudly. I understood. I’ve been to Istanbul. Such a grand city. Unforgettable. I mentioned the Blue Mosque. The Grand Bazaar. Istanbul—the exact midpoint between Europe and Asia!

She smiled appreciatively. She was pleased by my enthusiasm. Besides all that, this was a very happy day for her. She was ao excited. She was about to meet her mother. For the first time in nearly a year! It had been a long time for her.

Now she found a United official for me. A woman. I rushed through an account of my miserable story for us. She wasn’t the least bit flustered. She had heard every possible crazy story, I was sure. She asked me for some specifics, typed on her computer, peered on the screen. She didn’t make any comment. But I was sure the news wasn’t good.

She took me hand and put me on the train when it glided in. Told me where to get off. “Don’t miss your stop!” she told me pointedly. I couldn’t help noticing her emphasis. My Good Samaritan lady engineer patted me on the shoulder. “Now you will be all right!” she told me sweetly. “Merry Christmas!” And turned to head on.

I stopped her, “”Thank you, Miss! Thank you!” And gave her a peck on the cheek. She laughed. I could see she was pleased. She gave me a pat on the shoulder. And took off. I was sorry to see her go. Really was. I stepped on the train. Was lucky and got a seat. The doors closed. The train slid ahead.

I didn’t miss my stop this time. I was right by a United counter. Went to a clerk. She studied her computer.

“ You’re too late! Way too late! But let me see what I can find for you!” She kept scanning her monitor and working her mouse.. About to take off. And you still have to check your bag and get through security!”

Finally she said, “I have another flight for you. It’s to Los Angeles rather than San Francisco. Then a short flight north to San Luis Obispo. Not south, as would have been the case on your previous itinerary. You will get San Luis 2 hours and 10 minutes later.” She smiled.

“And it’s good news.” I could tell she was trying to put a bright spin on this fiasco. “You’ll still be able to get a full night’s sleep! And keep your speaking commitment at the library in the morning!”

I thanked her profusely.To myself, I thought, “It’s going to be a very short night!” And I had another urgent matter. I had to call Monique and David and tell them about this screw-up. And my new arrival time. I have no cell phone.

“No problem!” she said and placed the call for me. In a minute she said. “Your son-in-law is on the line.” And gave me the call.

I explained to David. He took it calmly. “No problem, John! We’ll be there to meet you!” he said. “Relax!” What a huge sigh of relief I let out.

The lady agent wasn’t finished. She insisted on walking me to the long United desk. Placed me in the shortest line. Got me signed in and my big suitcase checked. Then summoned a wheel chair for me. As proud as I am, I did not decline. I was bushed. She told me where to sit and wait and wished me good luck. I thanked her profusely. She deserved profuse thanks!

In eight minutes a big cheerful gal in uniform rolled up with a chair for me. I gladly got in. She took charge of my handbag, my computer, my walking stick, my coat, everything, and began pushing me. Fast.

“Where to now?’ I asked.

“To Security!” She didn’t waste a minute. Double-timed!

I was puzzled. Why Security? Didn’t pursue it. She worked me into the check-in area. Long lines waiting. She bypassed them all. Pushed me right to the head of the line at the far left. . Then into a special lane. Only two people ahead of me. Helped me get all my stuff into the plastic buses and onto the moving conveyor belt.

But I did not have to take off my shoes. Hurray! It’s a new rule for older people. A TSA agent ushered me through. Frisked me. Made me stand in a glass chamber. Ordered me to place my feet on two specific spots on the floor. Told me to hold my hands straight up. Stare straight ahead. I heard a click. Heard someone say, “Okay, sir. Now step ahead, please!” I completed the whole miserable process. Began gathering all my stuff on the other side.

But my attendant with the wheel chair had followed me through. “No time to waste!” she snapped. “Please sit down.” She took charge of all my stuff. She rolled me right down the long ramp. Right to the door of the plane. Now I realized the flight the flight was being held for me. Gosh! I got on. But not without taking a minute to dig into my wallet and give that hard-working gal something for her strenuous efforts.

The plane was jammed full. It turned out I was in a row of three seats. The flight attendant led me to my row half way back. Only the middle seat was available. The awful middle seat! A heavy woman was ensconced in the aisle seat.

Instantly the attendant ordered her to move to the middle seat. What’s this, I wondered? Well, the heavy lady had thought only two of the seats in the row would be occupied.Her ticket was for the middle seat. It was nearly take-off time. So she had eased herself into the better aisle seat. Hey, I would have done the same thing. Very reluctantly she shifted over. I settled into the aisle seat and got settled.

We took off. Every seat had a TV monitor. Once up at flight altitude, ! turned on a movie. I needed to relax! Something called “The Campaign.” A silly, crazy comedy but with a serious theme.

Two men campaigning for a seat in Congress. A long-experienced Congressman very slick and sleazy whose guiding principle was to win re-election at any cost, meaning to use any underhanded strategy he thought would help him.

And a nice guy, ordinary looking in every way, but a family man with a loving wife and kids, who was running because he felt Washington was a mess and he wanted to help the people in his district. Loved the movie.

Then my screen went dead. An attendant came, studied, tried to reboot it. My TV remained dead all the way across. Every other TV on the plane kept working fine.

The crew served us a beverage. Period. Not even the usual bag of peanuts. Then later they came around with cups of water.That’s typical airline service today, as we know.

Two thirds of the way across, the captain came on. “Tough winds ahead. Heavy turbulence. Stay buckled in! Buckle in tight, please! No standing! No walking!”

It was ominous. Scary. Dead silence on the plane. We waited for the awful bouncing to start. And waited. Braced ourselves. !t was a false alarm. Maybe the pilot circled around the heavy winds. Not sure. Felt no turbulence of any kind. And we landed in San Francisco right on time Amazing.

Now I had a 50-minute wait for my next flight. I parked all my hand stuff. With my walking stick, I spent the whole time walking a circle around the gate area I was in. Around and around. Needed the exercise..

By magic, another wheelchair attendant approached. Insisted I be seated. Rolled me down one flight on an elevator and out the rear of the terminal. Right onto the blacktop where the planes were parked. Dark out night. And cold out! Br-r-r-r!

Rolled me out to a much smaller plane a hundred yards away. It had only two engines. A turbo-prop , it looked like. Pushed me right to the base of the rolling stair that led up into the plane. I made it up to the top and in. Nice and warm inside. Good.

Just 40 seats at the most, I’d say. I was the first on. I took a seat right by a window. I knew we’d be flying up the coast. I wanted to look down on the coast, not out on the vast, empty Pacific. Another 15 or 20 passengers got on. One engine sputtered on, then the second, and we took off.

This was real flying–not the smooth, predictable, so powerful take-off of the big jets. This plane was surging and bucking and fighting its way up. Which I happen to enjoy. You knew the captain did not have this plane on automatic—which I know the big planes use routinely once they’re aloft. Maybe even on takeoffs? That for sure he had his hands on the yoke and was really steering this thing and bossing it.

I had chosen the good side. It was a clear, beautiful evening, with a perfect quarter moon. I enjoyed the the lights in cities and towns along the shore, with the long dark stretches in between. And the lights of ships and boats making their way below. The hour went by quickly, and the pleasure of this brief flight made up for the boredom of my long flight across the whole U.S.A.

We landed on time. I managed the long walk into the terminal and up to the main floor. Monique and David were there waiting. Big smiles and open arms. A nice ride home.

It was nearly 2 a.m. by Connecticut time when I got to bed—and I had gotten up at 5 a.m. I had been up 21 hours.

But I managed a solid seven hours of good sleep and got up to a good breakfast and a nice, sunny day.. And I made my speaking engagement at the library the next morning. Which went well.

If United Airlines ever offers me another ticket starting with a train ride, I’ll think six times before I accept it. You be cautious, too!

Talking Transportation – Connecticut’s New Railroad

Jim CameronLast week, China opened the world’s longest high speed rail line.  From Beijing the line runs 1,428 miles south to Guangzhou, roughly the distance from New York City to Key West.  At an average speed of 186 mph, the 1000-passenger, 16-car trains will cover the distance in eight hours.  Trains depart every 10 to 12 minutes in each direction.

Though construction of high speed rail only began in 2007, by 2015 China will have a national network of over 11,000 miles of high speed rail lines carrying more than 3 billion passengers annually.

Envious?  Sure.  Why can’t we build something like that in the US?  Lots of reasons.  But consider what we are building.

By 2016, Connecticut will have a new commuter rail line, its first in decades, running 60 miles from New Haven through Hartford and on to Springfield MA.  The $647 million project is fully funded ($388 million in Federal money, $259 million in state bonding) and is on, if not ahead of, schedule.

The double track line will eventually offer trains every half-hour, carrying an estimated 1.7 million passengers a year.  Today, Amtrak diesels chug along the line on a single track offering eight trains a day carrying 380,000 passengers a year. (PS:  It remains to be seen who will run this new state-owned railroad, Amtrak or some other operating agency.)

While most Amtrak passengers are connecting in New Haven to Northeast corridor trains, this new “Knowledge Corridor” line will offer not only seamless cross-platform connections to Acela, Metro-North and Shore Line East, but point-to-point service among its 13 stations.

At three stations there will be connections to CTfastrak (the new $567 million bus rapid transit system opening in 2015).  And at Windsor Locks you’ll be able to hop off the train, onto a shuttle bus and be at Bradley airport in just minutes.  Eventually there may be through trains north to Montreal and east to Boston via the inland route.

There are plans for 200 – 300 parking spaces at most stations.  But the real hope is that TOD (Transit Oriented Development) will work its magic and people will be able to live, commute to work and get back home without a car.

The economic potentials are amazing:  work in downtown Hartford or New Haven but live, shop and eat in Wallingford or Windsor and never have to own a car!  Already the land around the proposed stations is being grabbed up for development.

Another issue for the communities served by the new rail line will be the 32 grade crossings.  More trains will mean more gates dropping across busy roadways and more warning horns being sounded.

One thing the new rail line will not be is “high speed” (125+ mph).  Earlier hype about bullet trains running parallel to I-91 has been replaced with more reasonable expectations:  the new trains will cover the 60 miles between New Haven and Springfield just eight minutes faster than existing Amtrak trains (thanks mostly to raised platforms and less ‘dwell time’ at stations).  But what they lack in speed they will more than make up for in frequency of service.

For more information on Connecticut’s newest rail line, visit their website: http://www.nhhsrail.com

JIM CAMERON has been a commuter out of Darien for 21 years.  He is Chairman of the CT Metro-North / Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM.  You can reach him at CTRailCommuterCouncil@gmail.com or www.trainweb.org/ct .  For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com